Wine Reviewing: Drawing Up A Plan
I think I'd be a pretty good wine reviewer. After 20 years of tasting wine regularly and with a certain cache of knowledge in the subject of wine, and given my propensity to be able to focus intensely on a matter, and, finally, having a certain confidence in my writing that allows me to compose rather quickly, I am certain I could act as a responsible and useful wine critic.
Yet I don't. The reason is pretty simple: My day job consists of representing wineries and wine related companies in public relations and marketing matters. It seems to me an obvious conflict of interest to review wines that may be the product of competitiors of those I represent.
This is something I've explained a number of times here at Fermentation over the past seven years. Yet I still receive samples on a fairly regular basis. Today I sent an email off to the folks at Yorkville Cellars in Mendocino County who were kind enough to send me three samples of their organic wines. I thanked them for the samples, explained my position and suggested that in the future they deliver the sample to another more likely to review their wines, though I assured them I would share the wines with wine lovers when they are opened so that they get as much exposure as possible.
Yet for some reason, I got to thinking upon writing to the Yorkville folks just how I would approach wine reviewing if I chose to take up the task. It's a questiion many in the blogging world have given consideration to.
My approach, I think, would be pretty basic:
1. Each review would include alcohol level, production level, the date the wine was bottled, a link to where it could be purchased, and the date that I reviewed the wine. These issues of fact seem to me most important for those considering purchasing a wine that they've not tasted before.
2. I would review as many wines as I could possibly get down my gullet. Offering the occasional review might be interesting, but it's not the kind of format that inspires devotion by readers and wine lovers.
3. Reviews would consist primarily of a description of the color, aroma, taste and overall impression of the wine all in the context of other wines of a similar sort (varietal and appellation and vintage). The basis of my evaluations would be hedonistic.
4. I would rate the wines using a 100 point scale, making sure that even wines I find deserving of only 50 points were published. I believe a proper critic is responsible for explaining what they don't like as well as what they like. Each illuminates the other. As for the 100 point system, it is familiar, easy to understand and the most commonly used system that allows my reviews to be easily set aside other reviews of a similar system.
5. I would email the wineries whose wines are the subject of my reviews immediately upon publishing them. It's a courtesy I think would be appreciated.
6. I would, whenever possible, publish a picture of the label. It's nice touch.
The Yorkville Cellars wines would have been a fun set to review. I was sent a Semillon, a Carmenere and a blend of all the approved Bordeaux varieties. All the wines produced come from the winery's certified organic estate located in the tiny Yorkville Highlands appellation in Mendocino County on the road to the Anderson Valley. Yorkville Cellars is one of those somewhat obscure wineries that one has to either discover after driving by or specifically desire to visit. Finally, the wines are particularly well priced for being made in very small amounts. Nearly all are under $30 per bottle.
I have always believed and continue to believe that wine criticism is not merely a noble pursuit, but a pursuit every bit as justifiable as art criticism and food criticism. I view it as sub genre of wine writing. I stand amazed at those such as Jim Laube, Robert Parker, Jr., Steve Heimoff, Jancis Robinson and the others wo so consistently produce reviews of 1000s of wines each year. Not only are they capable of stuffing so much good information into a small note, but they have done so over such a long period of time without any decline in their ability.
My hope is that serious wine reviewing by professionals never dies.